24 Hours in New England's Scenic Upper Valley

Covered bridges, mountainside gardens, Ivy League college: This whirlwind tour of the Connecticut River's Upper Valley is where New Hampshire meets Vermont.

Hanover, New Hampshire: The beau ideal of a quaint New England town. It is a popular pit stop in the Upper Valley of the Connecticut River because it is home to Ivy League institution Dartmouth College. A two-hour drive from Boston makes Hanover an easy overnight, not to mention it is a great halfway stopping point between Boston and Montréal, so there's no need to use parents' weekend as an excuse to soak up its charms. For travelers passing through, we've created a whirlwind tour of what to see and do in just 24 hours.

Afternoon

Once into the Upper Valley area, stop for lunch at King Arthur Flour Bakery in Norwich, Vermont. The flour company's flagship campus features a busy cafe that serves up sandwiches on artisan bread made right on site and a selection of fresh creative salads that can be mixed and matched on the plate. The adjacent Baking Education Center holds classes on topics from scones to savory supper pies where participants watch, learn and bake, but these book up fast. Don't miss the baker's store stocked with unique flour varieties, utensils and specialty ingredients. 

After lunch, shoot down Route 91 to Windsor, Vermont, to explore Artisans Park, an expansive complex that is home to eight attractions emphasizing Vermont handicraft. Score a behind-the-scenes look at famous glassblowing operation Simon Pearce from an elevated catwalk over its hotter-than-hot workshop; the upstairs factory outlet store is the place to drop some cash on second-quality glass and pottery. Just up the road, the Sustainable Farmer sells perfectly pungent aged Grafton cheddar, and Harpoon Brewery offers facility tours, 5-samplers and pint drafts of signature craft beers in the Beer Garden. Liquor lovers should stop in at Peter Jillson's SILO/American Crafted Spirits across the way; the three-year-old distillery makes gin, bourbon, whisky and a potent elderberry vodka. 

SILO jam

Head back to New Hampshire across the Cornish-Windsor Bridge, which crosses the Connecticut River, the Northeast's longest at 410 miles and a natural and de facto border between New Hampshire and Vermont. The 1866 structure, at nearly 450 feet, is the country's longest wooden covered bridge and the world's longest two-span covered bridge. Drive across it, but pull over on the New Hampshire side and step out for a closer look at the landmark and sweeping views.

Aspet at SGNHS

Late afternoon is a lovely time to stroll the acreage of Cornish, New Hampshire's Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site. Surrounded by forest, the gorgeous place is the former home of great American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, from 1885 until 1907. Gain entrance to the main house Aspet, built in 1817, two studios and a gallery before 4:30 pm. Grounds are open until dusk for ample exploration of tucked away gardens and landscaped alcoves that boast old-fashioned flowers and hemlock hedges set with the artist's work, including a recast of the Adams Memorial (original is at Washington DC's Rock Creek Cemetery) and a final version of the Shaw Memorial (original is at Boston Common in Boston). 

Hanover Inn

Evening

Check in at Hanover Inn Dartmouth. The historic property owned by Dartmouth College underwent a massive $43 million renovation, relaunching in 2012 as a AAA Four Diamond boutique hotel. The top-notch accommodations are contemporary, cozy and collegiate, with rooms overlooking the Dartmouth campus and Hanover's South Main Street. Dinner can and should be taken leisurely at the hotel's restaurant PINE. Bostonians will recognize the influence of chef Michael Schlow, who opened and regularly consults with Executive Chef Justin Dain on the menu. Food is aptly dubbed "farm to fork" with seasonal, locally sourced veggies and meat shining in dishes like arugula with light-as-air goat cheese and pickled root vegetables, potato-crusted halibut with carrot puree and the top-selling Hanover burger, an item Schlow is recognized for in many of his award-winning restaurants. At the bar, mixologist James Ives has reimagined classic 19th- and early-20th-century cocktails for the 21st-century, creating them from scratch using house-made infusions and drinking vinegars, fresh juice, bitters and more.

PINE burger

Morning

Wake up early to make the most of Hanover and spend the day right here in town. Take breakfast at Lou's on South Main. With its Formica counter and green vinyl stools, the circa-1947 diner appears no-frills at first glance, but the food tells another incredibly tasty story. Order ‘The Little Green’ to sample everything, but be prepared for a gluttonous meal because Lou's portions are enormous and decadent: home fries cooked in bacon fat, four pieces of crispy bacon, two slices of sourdough, two scrambled eggs and the cherry on top: a soft, frosted, French toast-ified home-baked cruller doughnut drowning in real maple syrup. If possible, wait to satisfy the coffee craving with a post-meal visit to Dirt Cowboy Cafe, Hanover's premier coffee shop, which serves a 10-ounce pour over made from house-roasted arabica beans for only $1.85.

Dartmouth Green

Dartmouth College's campus, otherwise known as the Dartmouth green, is a step away from South Main. The school was originally founded back in 1769 as an institution to educate Native Americans. Today, it has graduated more Native American students than all other Ivy League colleges combined. There is much to see and do here, and visitors can pick at will from among the myriad options. The Hood Museum of Art features wide-reaching collections meant to educate; the mixed-media exhibition "Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties" runs through Dec. 14, 2014. Art buffs will also appreciate significant works of public art spread across the campus, including pieces by Mark di Suvero, Ellsworth Kelly and Thomas Bayliss Huxley-Jones. Neo-Romanesque Rollins Chapel caters to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and people of the Bahá'í religion and is home an interior 24-foot-wide-and-tall prayer labyrinth for visitors to wander and contemplate. Across College Street, the Baker Library features 2.5 million books and three notable attractions. Spend a few minutes in the reserve reading room appreciating "The Epic of American Civilization," the haunting 24-panel mural sequence painted by Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco between 1932 and 1934. Students convene to study quietly in the Theodor Seuss Geisel Room, a chamber dedicated to the man who children everywhere recognize as Dr. Seuss. A Kinstler portrait, illustrations and other small exhibits highlight the career of the illustrious the artist, author and 1925 Dartmouth alum. But, the white, steeple-like, weathervane-topped Baker Library Bell Tower is the institution's most visible attraction and, at 200 feet can be seen from miles around. Because of its age and tight quarters, it is only open to the public for climbs on special occasions (like Homecoming Weekend, Oct. 17-18) when lines tend to be long because the accompanying views of the Upper Valley are nothing short of spectacular. 

Jacob Lawrence, "Soldiers and Students" 1962, on view at Hood Museum of Art's "Witness" exhibition (©2014 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

By midmorning, the shops of Hanover's South Main Street are open for business, but first, refuel with a cool treat from Morano Gelato, a Hanover upstart that serves incredibly tasty, authentic Sicilian-style gelato made from scratch each morning. About 16 flavors change daily and may include walnut pear and hazelnut—so buck up and try a few! If the weather is nice, sit on the bench just outside the Town Hall and snag a book from the newly installed Howe Little Free Library, which offers a 'take one/leave one' book program, no card necessary.

Athletic types may already know that the heralded Appalachian Trail runs right through downtown, so in late summer and early fall it's common to see pack-laden through-hikers wandering town in search of a hot meal and a shower. Check that off the bucket list.

Morano Gelato

Artisan-made souvenirs with local appeal—rather than kitschy—are found at South Main's shops, including Lemon Tree Gifts for items like CoolSnowGlobes of Vermont, The Dartmouth Bookstore with lots of current reading materials on area hiking and sightseeing, and Left Bank Books featuring used, out-of-print and otherwise rare books, frequent poetry readings, sidewalk sales and art exhibitions.

If it's the weekend, cap off this whirlwind tour with a final lunch or brunch at Murphy's, a favorite watering hole with an Irish pub vibe and an unexpected elevated locavore culinary program headed by chef Steven Dow. Fish and chips, the rabbit confit pasta and the lobster roll are popular choices; burger buffs should try Murphy's signature 'the Murph' and compare it with last night's counterpart at PINE.

How to Get Here

From Boston: By car, take Route I-93 N to I-89 N. Public transport, direct daily service via Dartmouth Coach from South Station or Logan Airport in Boston to the Hanover Inn. Approximately 2 hours.

From Montréal: By car, take I-89 S. Approximately 3 hours.

Leigh Harrington
About the author

Leigh formerly served as the Boston editor for Where and was the br...